la toile
bosse

lecteur

Bidarray
Snapshots of France: the Basque town of Bidarray. 

Faire-part
fer-par
noun, masculine
an announcement (of birth or marriage or death) 

 


This morning I received an email from a longtime reader. Only, on closer look, there was something unusual about the courriel: the sender's full name was repeated in the email's subject line. The last time that I received such a letter from a subscriber address it was bad news.

Clicking open the email, I soon learned that the sender was not a reader of my newsletter, but the son of a reader. The email was a faire-part announcing that his mother, Ginny, had passed away.

Ginny.... Like Cher, Madonna, Oprah, or Martha, it took only a prénom for me to recognize her each time her name popped into my inbox. I never hesitated opening her emails, which were full of warmth and self-depreciating humor. How could she be no more?

Caught off guard, I clicked shut the email and sat back to stare at my inbox, where the letter was sandwiched in between dozens of emails labeled "SPAM". Heartless spam! I quickly deleted the intruder messages in order to safeguard this delicate nouvelle.

Clicking back open the email, I noticed how the next line of the letter reflected the newly-peeled sentiments inside of me, including sorrow. 

The writer was apologetic about the delivery format of his message:
"I'd prefer a more personal way to let you know, but for many of you, this is the only contact information I have...."

I wanted to thank Ginny's son for informing this stranger, who, under the circumstances, felt something like a voyeur or an illegitimate mourner. After all, how to explain the relationship that I had with his mother, who was, in effect, a "virtual" acquaintance—someone I had never seen or spoken to before?

My mind was normally as busy as a hummingbird's wings, and now a new and sorrowful stillness reigned inside: a stranger's grief... my own.

I began to wonder. Had I answered Ginny's last email? I went back over the 61 courriels received from Ginny in the four-and-a-half years since she began responding to my internet column.

She addressed me as her "Chère amie du courrier électronique". Other times, I was "Chère Madame" or "Chère Kristin" or, simply, "Chère amie", to which she added, in her signature humble way "si l'on ose à le dire" ("if one might be so presumptuous as to say").

I noticed that self-effacing "P.S." that she usually added: "Réponse Pas Nécessaire" ("No Response Necessary", she always insisted, as if to say "you must, or should have other priorities than answering this silly note").

In the dozens of to-the-point emails that Ginny sent, she rarely spoke of herself and, when she did, she mostly poked fun at her persona: "Salut d'une vieille dame de Californie," she once wrote, and I can still remember the smile that it forged across this rigid-while-working face.

I learned that the "vielle dame" was a teacher, and "when lucky ... taught French". Mostly, Ginny offered encouragement and support. As to my first, practically pasted-together book (which she bought) she wrote: "I hope you sell a jillion of them!"

Whether in French or in English, her signature lines varied, and light-heartedly so, bringing to life one unforgettable character in my inbox: "Ginny 'la bavardeuse'," or "Ginny in the foothills of the Sierra, off Highway 50". By associating a "place" with her name, I could better identify this French Word-A-Day lectrice in an inbox full of unfamiliar names. For me she was "Ginny dans le piédmont.... where we are three inches low in rainfall" and "Ginny in Placerville, just downhill from Lake Tahoe" and, finally, "Ginny en californie... qui rêve d'un voyage en Norvège cet été."

Ginny, wherever you are, in the piedmont or, finally, up north (yes "up north" I trust...)—YOU ARE MISSED. And while I never knew the color of your hair, the tone of your skin, or the twinkle in your eye—you were indeed a mystery to me—I knew a charming precious bit about "la vieille dame de Californie".

P.S.: I wished my own signature line had as much zip, character, and warmth as yours... I'm sure that the teacher in you would be encouraging—so here goes:

Love,
Kristin
"une moitié-vieille dame de Provence qui a beaucoup apprécié votre éloquence életronique"
("a half-old dame in Provence who very much appreciated your electronic eloquence.")


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French Vocabulary

le courriel
email

le faire-part
announcement (of birth, marriage, death...)

le prénom
first name

nouvelle
news, update

la bavardeuse
 (le bavardeur)
the chatty one

la lectrice
reader

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